Not the Math Class I Remember: Innovative Instruction & Assessment

To be brutally honest, I don’t remember much about my high school math classes. Granted, it was almost 30 years ago. Had I been in Ben Schulcz’s math class, I’m confident I would remember. This morning, I had the pleasure of visiting his classroom to watch (and experience) his teaching in action. Ben uses innovative ways to deliver math instruction where students are engaged and having fun. He understands that achievement and innovation aren’t diametrically opposed.

The Environment:

Students walk into the class with subtle lighting, fluorescent overhead lights turned off. In the far corner of the room is a small unobtrusive light rotating from blue to green. Did you know blue light improves cognition while green inspires creativity? Brilliant.

Ben’s room uses every conceivable space with purpose. He has two whiteboards under short throw projectors and 7 shower boards ($14) for hands-on activities. ISTE Standards for students (2016)  are posted close to the pictures of natural landscapes for the windowless classroom.

The furniture is flexible with puzzle piece desks and mobile chairs. Within seconds, the room can be transformed into an entirely different space.

Ben has a tablet PC (Lenovo Yoga) he quickly flips into Windows Journal to show students a “quick tip” for solving a problem. The projectors are set up to display work wirelessly to provide mobility.

Ben Schulcz ClassroomThe Lessons:

First, Ben has students go to Quizlet Live. Students type in their name and they are dynamically placed into groups. Within the groups, students are shown a definition and they choose the correct vocabulary word. By collaborating (ISTE Standard), students figure out who has the right answer because the correct answers aren’t presented to every student. Answers are peppered throughout the team. Ben says he changed how he teaches vocabulary by embedding it within the content. A team wins and the students are off again, shuffling seats collaborating with new friends. The “morning fog” lifts from the students. Hallelujah. Ben also has quick formative data to understand what his students missed consistently.

Next, Ben gives them problems to work out at their desks. Students were encouraged to collaborate before testing their accuracy using Quizizz. If their answers were incorrect the students were asked to see Mr. Schulcz and show what they did wrong or get some assistance figuring it out. Another example of formative feedback as well as hitting the ISTE Standards of Computational Thinker and Empowered Learner. Students helped one another and sometimes came to the desk in a small group.

Once students finished Quizizz they jumped into Pearson’s MathXL for School offering opportunities for students to extend their learning. Computational Thinkers (ISTE) abound.

The next class consisted of a new group of students and a new course. In this class, Ben used Desmos where students executed critical thinking skills to solve a problem. A skydiver descends but at varying rates of speed. The students are asked to graph the movement and they are to write a narrative (Ben stresses using correct grammar!) of the sequence.

The Special Sauce:

Ben SchulcaThe special sauce that made the lessons listed above come to life is Ben’s passion. The passion inside the room was palpable. He has spent years (and continues to work) honing his craft, taking advantage of every opportunity presented. As Ben discusses his professional journey, he lights up. Earlier in his career, he was professionally developed at the Ron Clark Academy. If you haven’t watched the Ron Clark Story, I highly suggest it (bring a tissue). Ben participated in the first cohort of teachers to formally study blended learning. While exploring blended learning Ben learned of the Trailblazer Program through Battelle Education and the Ohio State University Straight A Grant. Ben applied and was one of 16 applicants selected out of 123 teachers. In this program, teachers learned how to effectively integrate technology into their classroom.

Ben simply makes math fun. 

Ben learned a lot from his Ron Clark experience including unorthodox strategies for engaging students. Ron Clark used rap songs for his class to help memorize presidents and to remember math like the one below.

 Ben used this strategy and created a few raps of his own. Below is a sample of one. Click to view more.

Functions by Mr. Schulcz (played to “Superbass” by Nicki Minaj)

This one is for the points in the domain,
use the x-axis and coordinate plane.
Find all inputs now don’t refrain!
All outputs y-values are the range,

If you fill, your grill, with math and good will,
you’ll work somewhere making hundred dollar bills.
You cope, with slope, you don’t lose hope.
You keep the rate of change always in your scope.

Change up and down, change left to right,
make a ratio and you’re ready to ignite.
Change in y over change in x
is the formula for success.

Test me with a vertical line
Function inputs match with one of a kind.
Oh sigh, look nearby,
I found multiple points on a vertical line

Oh, yes i did, yes i did,
somebody please tell them ‘bout a coordinate grid,
I am, doin’ math, and I’m livin it up,
functions aren’t bad, and my grade’s going up.

No breaks in domain and range,
my function is continuous and it ain’t strange.
Can’t you hear that Boom badoom Boom Boom badoom the function.
(Rate of Change)
Boom Boom badoom Boom Boom badoom the function.
(Domain and Range)

Ben agreed to allow me to share his raps as well as some “plug and play blended math activities.” He also feels committed to sharing and loves to learn from others. Interested in connecting with Ben? You can find him on Twitter @BSchulcz.

Thank you, Ben, for sharing your brilliance with me; it made my day.